Monday, March 23, 2009

Wii Game Hardware - IR LED Lightbar

I haven't gotten much sleep this weekend... so on to another project! I've written some PC software - to use the Wiimote controller in 2 PC games. The Wiimote library I'm using is very well done and useful... written by Brian Peek and found here:

To use the software and Wiimote, you really only need a Wii Sensor Bar and/or a separate IR LED for a point source. Johnny Chung Lee and many others have some really COOL stuff out there - I suggest checking out Johnny's website and things he has done to get you thinking...

So, I built a quick Sensor Bar to attach to my laptop and powered off of a USB port. Just 4 IR LEDs, 4 resistors (4.7K Ohms), an old cable, and a plastic 'bar'. Total cost was ~$0.60 and it took about 0.5 hours. (You can tell by the 'gorilla' soldering that it ain't pretty, but it works).

Here is the final IR LED Sensor Bar, with each pair of IR LEDs spaced out 7.5 inches apart. Here is a better example to use as a reference:

Results were poor. The IR LEDs output is fairly low compared with alot of the background light from the display, etc. So... i moved on with a different approach.

I have a bunch of coin (quarter) size 3.0V batteries and holders I got years ago for a different LED project (NWPodcast #76 - Salmon Fishing LEDs) and decided to rig up 2 of them with IR LEDs that I could then stick on the top of my PC (using Silly Putty!) to make it more mobile and easy to position.

Here are the coin batteries with IR LEDs soldered directly to their leads. Very easy to use and fast - just pop in the battery and you are good to go.

The final result resting on my laptop keyboard (the kids were gone and someone took Dad's Silly Putty and didn't put it BACK!) Works better than the Sensor Bar design, and easier to use. Now to finish the games and use the hardware...

Auto Repair Adventure #18 - Wheel Bearing Replacement

For a few weeks now, the front wheel bearing on my 2002 Pontiac Bonneville has been howling at me... and getting more and more impatient ;-) It was loud enough, and I had some time in the evening, so I jumped in and replaced it. The cool thing is that this bearing is a complete, sealed unit, and so replacement was fairly straightforward.

The steps were easy: remove wheel, stick screwdriver between caliper to remove the 1 3/8 nut, remove caliper bracker and rotor, remove 3 bolts from the rear of the sealed bearing unit, then putting the rotor back on the hub and beating it out with a rubber sledge to avoid damage to the CV joint. Finally, the sealed unit was installed in the reverse process and the ABS unit plugged in.

Took about 1.5 hours because I am slow, and I also replaced all the brakepads. Best part is, no broken off bolts, no skinned and bleeding knuckles, and it worked! The Bonnie is purring along just like new. How often does that going to happen on the first try ;-)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Free Software - Create Playlists for your MP3 files

Here's another application I wrote years ago, to let me create a 'playlist' of MP3 files on my computer. It is as simple as possible - simply open the directory your MP3 files are in, select each file in order, and push the button. The app creates an "asx" file that Windows MediaPlayer recognizes, and will play those files in-order.

There is also an option to create the playlist to work with ezSlideShow application that displays your digital photos (previous posting). Every year I make CDs for the family that simply put all the pictures and MP3 files from the previous year, and use ezSlideShow to "auto-play" the pictures on the CD when they put the CD into their computer. I have to keep it simple, and it is ;-) Hope you like it. As always, send me an email with what you like, what to fix, etc. I like the input!

PlaylistClient.exe is about 250kb in size for all versions of Windows.

CCA Meeting

I attended the monthly CCA meeting last night. First time in a a while... usually have church meetings that preclude me from attending. Gary Loomis presented at the meeting - another rally cry to get membership and push the political agenda.

I don't care for any lobby groups because of the radical-ism our country is plagued by, but I am a member of CCA. There has to be something done to save the Salmon/Fish resources of the Northwest, and its obvious that the State of Oregon is NOT interested in looking at the data or a viable (sustainable) solution. Of all the lobby groups - Federal or State - CCA makes the most sense, and is truly committed to saving the fish.

The 4 issues for the fish are Harvest, Hatcheries, Habitat, and Hydro (Dams). Over-harvesting by non-selective equipment (Gill nets) is BY FAR the biggest problem. Lets give the netter's better options and ensure the wild fish get into the streams.

Monday, March 9, 2009

NWPodcast #106 - Ultrasonic Elk

We've been completing quite a few NWPodcasts lately - its been a cold Feb and March so far, and the fish really haven't started biting so we are making hay while we can ;-) This podcast is some of our exploration of ultrasonic sound. You've probably heard of bat detectors - these simple circuits take untrasound that we humans can't hear, and shift them down into frequencies we can hear. It is fun listening to bats, insects, scratched glass, and even running water... but what really gets us excited is listening to elk, deer, rabbits, and coyotes!

For years I've been convinced that elk and coyotes can hear frequencies well above what we hear. Most of coyote prey makes these sounds, and dogs can here them, so it only makes sense! My favorite part of hunting is vocalization - calling to elk or coyotes. What if our calls make sounds that we can't here, that distinguish us from a "real" animal?

Recently scientists have been listening to trees, to see if their ultrasonic noises are attracting pine beetles and other parasites. Very cool!

In this podcast, we'll demonstrate some of the sounds in the ultrasonic frequency range (20kHz to 100kHz), and even demonstrate a coyote and elk call with the ultrasonic noise they make. We've started "upgrading" our equipment too, so that later this summer we can measure and record animals in the wild to profile their frequency ranges. This is a fun one with the kids, and interesting for you hunters out there, too.

A very good, basic detector with schematic and even build instructions can be found here: This is something the kids will really enjoy when they explore new sounds. When the kids start bugging eachother - I assign them to go and find 5 new 'sounds' we've never heard before, and it is great what new things they discover! More on that in a future podcast as well ;-)

Here's the podcast - it is ~8MB in size, and about 10 minutes long:

Friday, March 6, 2009

Book Recommendation - Exploration and Adventure

We read alot in the winter... and I've found over the years my interests tend to mountaineering and exploration more and more. This year i found a few really good ones. Its tough finding good winter fare and so I rely more and more on recommendations from others. This is one worth checking out.

As Told At The Explorers Club has about 50 short stories, most of them from the early 1900's of exploration and odd stories. Great book for the boat. I found it wandering at Powell's here in Portland, and it was even bargain-priced! They have a few more -

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Data Logging Circuit - 2.5 Mbytes

This is a small and simple remote data logger I designed a few years ago. Originally it connected to a GPS unit, and recorded the GPS position, but I've since expanded it to have more memory, a temperature sensor (DS1820), and more general purpose to record voltages and other data as I need it. The design is based on any PIC similar to the PIC16F648 controller, and has up to five AT45DB041 SPI non-volatile memory devices which each have 500kbytes of storage. Just a few years ago 2.5Mbytes of storage was a big deal ;-)

I've used these for remote temperature monitoring, and other low-power data logging. It takes data every 5 seconds, and records it to memory - then when it detects a PC serial port, it dumps out the data so it can be imported to Excel.

The memory requires 3.3V, so it has a simple surfacemount regulator. Nice and simple. Email me if you want the PIC code to try it out. Now-a-days it is easy and inexpensive to simply have a FAT file system chip on the board and a flashdrive to record all the data. Memory is so cheap now, its great.

I've resurrected the design to do a summer experiment with the kids - our plan was to launch a GPS unit in a weather balloon and track it. The 2nd GPS unit is to be launched in a float bouy out into the ocean at the mouth of the Columbia River. Problem is recovery. So... now the plan is to use two GPS enabled cellphones - i415 I got for $10 on ebay! These bad boys track real-time via cellphone towers, so if we don't recover the units, oh well - we still got our data. And the price is right. More on this project in a later podcast this summer - stay tuned!
Like all of our software and electronic projects, we are after data rather than making a product. We usually build our own to keep them under $20 per project, so we can so as many projects as possible. Feel free to email if you have questions or want details on this data logger.

NWPodcast $105 - Roadkill Revisited

I know, I know... too much of a good thing can hurt, right? Not so with roadkill ;-)

Since our last podcast we had a little run-in with a skunk... and just for your enjoyment, we skinned the skunk so it wouldn't go to waste. Also, we forgot to post links for the resources used in NWPodcast #103.

The tanning kit we used can be found at VanDyke's Taxidermy supplies. The easy directions are here - No link for brain-tanning, but if you do a google search, you'll find what you need. NOTE: the Lutan-f is on backorder as of this posting, so you may have to wait a little...

This is a shorter podcast (thank goodness!) - filesize is 8MBytes and plays for ~12 minutes.

NWPodcast #104 - Sturgeon Fizz Bombs

One of our favorite things to do is FISHING! There are alot of fishing opportunities in the NorthWest, as you've seen before here and will see in future podcasts. This episode we talk about a "secret" fishing lure - the fizzing fish bombs. This is the first time on the internet the topic is presented. And this ISN'T a commercial - we don't sell these and you can make them at home. There are alot of recipes on the web - for example

We take this interesting science project and apply it to Sturgeon Fishing. Yeah! Not too much fishing in the video, so we'll include this one of us catching an 8 foot Sturgeon last year.

We use 2 different recipes for 'gator fishing, and compare them in the video to action. We also do a basic pH and alkali test, all in the name of science.

We did this podcast for video - it was too tough to explain what we were doing for the audio-only. We considered doing this for the Roadkill Recycle (#102), but fortunately we kept that one audio only ;-) The video is on YouTube (5 minutes):

Part2 of the video (testing the pH) is here (4.5 minutes):

Free Software - Write like Leonardo Da Vinci

Back in high school, I had heard that Leonardo Da Vinci wrote backwards in his notebooks as a simple "secret code", so I started doing that in my journals and some notebooks I kept.

A few years ago the kids and I were talking about it, and I wrote this little piece of software and a new font that lets you type out a message and put it into a word document. Not very fancy, or even very useful, but we've had some fun with it... so here you go ;-)

Its free but all I ask is simple feedback via email. Let me know what you think, or if you have any ideas or suggestions. The font and directions are included in the Zip'ed file.
LDVrelease is 250kb in size.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

PC Control Circuit - Remote Hardware Control

Just for variety... here's a little hardware circuit I created to allow me to remote-control a PC via ethernet network. I know there is alot of software out there to give remote control access and I've used most of them, even wrote some, but for this job I needed control over the PC during POST (when BIOS is first booting the system before Windows takes over). All the software out there requires Windows to be running first, before you get control over it.

So, this simple circuit is basically an ethernet module that has digital input and output, analog output, and a serial port on it I can talk to and control. It is based on the "ezWebLynx" module ( Really easy to use. I created a keyboard controller using a PIC12F683 microcontroller and connected the PIC to share the serial port with the PC. I can talk to the PIC, tell it what keyboard keys to send to the PC, and listen for the PC response over the serial port. Most people aren't aware that their PC's BIOS code is pumping out alot of useful information during POST. After the PC has booted into Windows I then use VNC and my own software "Puppetmaster" to control applications on the PC.

This circuit is basic - just the PIC for keyboard output to the PC, and a MAX233 chip to transceive all serial port traffic between the ethernet and the PC. A couple of headers on the board allow me to reprogram the PIC as needed, and access the IO pins on the module. I've tied
3 IO pins to the front-panel header of the PC - the power switch, the reset switch, and Vcc pin to detect when the PC is powered on. Ultimate control for less than $60 (including PCB).

Later on I'll post the application I wrote to talk to and control the circuit from a remote PC. It uses UDP packets instead of TCP.

Software - Digital Photo and MP3 Slideshow

We take alot of pictures each year of the kids and our adventures. Thousands. This is a software application i wrote years ago to let the kids easily watch the pictures accompanied with music. Three button clicks and it is playing. Simply tell the app where your pictures are, where your MP3 playlist is (what music to play), and then click "Run the Show!". Thats it.

We spend alot of Sunday afternoons watching pictures, and it is great - especially with music.

Over the years quite a few people have downloaded the application. Hope you like it too.

ezSlideshow.exe is 272kb in size.

Monday, March 2, 2009

NWPodcast #103 - Roadkill Recycling... !

We've been working on this podcast for a while now... not your regular 'course of fare', either! We're going to talk about skinning and tanning fur - but before you call PETA and report us, hear us out. We are using roadkill - recycling the fur off animals that would normally go to waste. Its actually alot of fun if you pick the right one ;-)

This time of year fur-bearing animals have beautiful pelts. There are lots of raccoon, squirrels, rabbits, even skunks, and this year we even found a river otter. Score! The kids have a great time learning new and useful skills while appreciating the beautiful animals we work with.

In this podcast we'll talk you through the basics while we skin, salt, tan, and care for our roadkill treasures. It really doesn't take alot of work, or alot of money to do. And because this is a family channel, we keep it all rated-PG... no blood or gore.
This podcast is a little longer... about 23 minutes / 23MB in size.